“First of all it came from the streams and the roads. It was like rapids coming down that alleyway.”   Leave a comment

This is how a Tewkesbury pub manager, in a recent interview, remembers the beginning of the flood on Friday, July 20th 2007. Within only thirty-five minutes, the pub was flooded waist-deep.

It was so strong that when I came out here (to the car park) it took me off my feet, you know… But it was only this deep (points to his lower feet) at the time when I was trying to get the cars out. It was like – whoa! It was coming that far, and there were bins and all sorts just rushing out onto the road. Cars still trying to come through, at stupid speeds as well, you know. This was before the bridge collapsed…

In the beginning, pub staff and customers – some of them whom had never been there before, but were stuck in Tewkesbury because earlier floods had caused road closures – tried to save as much as possible from the rising waters.

Downstairs we’ve got a book case round the corner for customers. And all those are bought, either by me or mum, or customers bring them in and put them there. So mum’s like, “rescue the books!” She collects books, she’s got thousands of them… And her plants, “rescue the plants! Don’t let them drown!” You know, […] chairs, I mean, “rescue the chairs!” We were piling chairs upon tables, and then from the tables on to chairs on top of chairs… more important chairs upon chairs, you know… Trying to build up, trying to get everything high. […] There was a [previous flood] mark on the corner of the bar, “1998”, and it was getting closer and closer to that. And when it actually beat it, we all cheered!

When the water stopped rising, the staff and some of the customers (now soaked) resumed drinking, playing pool, and socialising. “I mean, once you’ve lifted everything up, there’s nothing you can do, you know”. On the next day, the water would rise even higher in the pub, destroying its entire interior. What the pub manager finds most memorable, however, is not just the water and the destruction it caused, but the reaction of the owners (who are the manager’s parents) and other pub staff.

When it was about three o’clock in the morning and there was left myself, my mum and dad, Mark who works for us, and he’d stayed to help, Bathy who works for us, and he’d stayed to help… All the customers had gone, they’d all left. Mark’s wife, who’s passed away now, but she was here, she was sat upon the bar. […] Dad was behind the bar up to his waist in water. We all had drinks in our hands, and dad went, “that’s it, bollocks to it. What’s happened has happened.” And then Mark started singing ‘always look on the bright side of life’ by Monty Python, while we were covered up to our waist! And we all just stood there – it’s on video somewhere, just wish I could find it – all singing ‘always look on the bright side of life.’ We were all just dancing at three o’clock in the morning. It was cold and wet and miserable, but at that moment… It was just like “what’s done is done, that’s it.” That will be something that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. You know, I just sort of stood back and looked at mum and dad cuddling, because they just lost everything – and you have lost everything! – and I just thought I wish my brothers were here to watch this, and my sisters […]. Because it’s a moment you’ll never get back again, you know, watching your parents who just lost everything, and then they can just raise a drink and sing…

Later in the interview, the pub manager explains that remembering floods is very important for inhabitants of flood-prone areas. He says that these memories not necessarily help people to practically deal with floods, but that they are important in fostering a particular attitude. People need to be aware of the possibility of flooding, of the dangers that flooding brings, and of the things that they can and cannot do during a flood. The pub manager explains that his own attitude towards floods was shaped by many flood experiences during his childhood. This is how he describes one of his memories of learning to live with floods:

I’ve always been brought up around flooding. As a child, we used to walk the floods. We’ve done it on Christmas Day, to walk to the pub at Lower Lode across the embankments, the flood barriers. There was water rushing; it was quite deep. All holding hands linked, and mum had wrapped scarves around our hands. We were walking along and Nicky was tied to the dog, my little sister. […] He’s a big dog, a big lurcher cross greyhound, so he’s a big powerful dog. And she had one hand hooked onto mum and one hand… Well, the dog chose to actually – you might think this sounds stupid, but – the dog actually chose to stand next to Nicky across that flood barrier. She hooked onto his collar, and he was on the outside of them. And then we all went to the pub for a drink. Well, they did; we all just played in the floods.

Many people living on and moving to the floodplain lack such memories, however. And even the pub manager and his family were surprised by the extent of the summer 2007 flood, and learned from it. In his own words:

Next time you’d be a bit more prepared, definitely. And there will be a next time for as long as I’m here anyway. If I stay here, it will happen again. So next time, we’ll be a bit more prepared. So now, we’ve got more sandbags ready over there. And rather than before, when we were kind of like, “where are they, where are they?” they will all be piled up in the corner. […] We’ve got boards cut ready for the pub, something that you can try and stop it a bit more. That’s about the only advantage, isn’t it, that you’ve actually experienced it. Some people haven’t experienced it, they might be really frightened. We will all be like, “no, it’s cool don’t worry. We’ve got to get everything out; we’ve got to do this…”

But he adds that there need to be ways of teaching those people about floods who have never experienced one themselves. Otherwise they will have to learn the hard way. Remembering the floods, and passing on these memories to children and newcomers, must be formalized in some way. The pub manager reckons that schools with pupils from flood-prone areas should adopt flooding and coping with floods into their curriculum.

You need to remember, don’t you. Like that poor lad that died, that father and son that died… You can’t forget that because that’s just… That kid tried to cross a brook! Kids need to be taught that. I know that you don’t go crossing brooks, but I was brought up […] surrounded by floods. He wasn’t, and he tried to swim across. I mean, I know that you can drown in four inches of flood water, because it will take your feet away. You can bang your head and that’s it. So kids need to be taught that this is a flood-town. That’s what they don’t do around here, they don’t teach the children in schools about flooding. You know, they don’t teach them how powerful water is. I have to explain to my son… I had to explain it to him, he now knows. They don’t understand, they think you could probably just cross branches like Tarzan to go across a flooded brook, and don’t realise that once he’s in there you’ve got virtually zero chance of getting back out of it again, because you’re just washing along with it. Yeah, that’s what they need to do around here.

Is it thus an attitude that makes people resilient to floods?

And what role can formal education play in passing on flood memories?

What other ways are there to keep these memories alive, and relevant for the next flood?

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